April 13, 2014
Nations Expanding Nuclear Power
A Technology Review infographic on nuclear power plants expected in the next 8 to 10 years tells an interesting story: China's planned increase in nuclear power is the largest, followed by Russia and India.
What I found most interesting: countries that will start using nuclear power for the first time. That includes Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey, UAE, and Vietnam. I am guessing that the Polish and Lithuanians want to reduce their reliance on natural gas from Russia. Some of these countries are small. Can they handle big reactors swinging between operational and non-operational states?
Randall Parker, 2014 April 13 09:40 PM
European electricity grids are pretty well integrated so it doesn't particularly matter whether you build something in a small country. Also, at least Lithuania isn't going to be a new nuclear power user. It had a Soviet built Chernobyl type plant called Ignalina...
...but the EU wanted it shut down (this was a pretty big issue for Sweden & Finland and everyone in EU has veto power over new members). They used to power up the Baltic states and Belarus and the other states are a part of the replacement plan (the new plant if it is ever built will be built on the same site).
It's not just gas/coal dependency that's the issue. Russia also sells electricity to Finland, Scandinavia and the ex-Soviet countries. They operate their old Soviet designs without much worry but the EU seems to have given up on trying to pressure Russia on them.
Am I the only one who feels a little nervous about some of these countries having nuclear power?
I'm not a fan of nuclear power. Even in developed countries there have been disasters, leaks and cover-ups. Less developed countries would have to be worse. This is a disaster in the making.
"Even in developed countries there have been disasters, leaks and cover-ups."
Which doesn't change the fact that a good day for coal is worse than a bad day for nuclear. If we're to take the LNT theory seriously, coal is even worse than nuclear on a radiation basis.
A couple of those supposedly new countries have used nuclear before. Kazahkstan had a small plant in operation for 26 years which it shut down 15 years ago. Lithuania had two Chernobyl type reactors which have been shut down. And while Poland has never had a functioning nuclear reactor it did start construction on four but abandoned them. The way these things go, nothing is really certain until construction starts, and even then things may not go ahead as Poland demonstrates. I think construction has only actually started in Bangladesh and the UAE, so they're the only real firm ones in the list of "newbies". Vietnam has announced a six year delay on nuclear so unless they can get a reactor up and running in two years they shouldn't even be in consideration. Given the current low and decreasing cost of the competition, I suspect that a number of these plans either won't go ahead or will be scaled back. Given how at a euro a watt, the UAE can have solar up and producing electricity at under 5 cents a kilowatt-hour within months obviously puts a crimp in the economics of further expanding nuclear there. The same holds true to varying degrees for the other countries, though some are obviously sunnier than others.
1. Building a viable regulatory infrastructure from scratch (overseeing construction and ops)
2. Financing the new builds - many countries are looking to the vendor/national govt to bring the money
3. Securing long term access to fuel and disposal/recycling
I agree that some of these countries pose a number of risks by having nuclear reactors. However, I am not nervous because I figure the odds of personally getting harmed by what they might do is pretty low. I am not going to worry on behalf of people who don't care.
Good point about coal. It is causing large scale ecological damage and it makes me very reluctant to visit China. Really don't want to breathe air that is like smoking cigarettes.
A point about China: They would need to build some multiple of the amount of nukes they are building to make nukes replace coal. Their nuke plans look to be close to 100 GW if I understand that graph correctly. Still a huge build up.
"Which doesn't change the fact that a good day for coal is worse than a bad day for nuclear."
Nuclear proponents push rosy short-term predictions while ignoring the risks and long-term costs. All it takes is an earthquake or war to turn every reactor into a Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island. Even on a bad day for coal, you don't have to store its radioactive waste by-product for 10,000 years. Which, by the way, no one has been able to do with nuclear waste for even a few years without it leaking like a sieve into the groundwater. For nuclear proponents to be taken seriously they need to show these issues have been addressed by at least cleaning up the messes they've already created.
Oh, dear, Three Mile Island, which didn't even exceed it's emissions allowance for the month. Fukushima, where nobody died from radiation.
You have to build a plant like Chernobyl, to get another Chernobyl, that kind of accident is physically impossible at most nuclear plants.
The Tohoku quake didn't do squat at Fukushima. It took the tsunami to flood the backup generators, and no reactors at Fukushima Dai'ini or Onagawa suffered meltdowns despite being hit as hard or harder.
Had it not been for Naoto Kan, F. Dai'ichi might not have melted down either. Naoto Kan vetoed any depressurization of containments until after he'd held a press conference. This forced the Dai'ichi workers to delay the addition of water, which allowed fuel damage to progress much further than it could have if they'd been allowed to act when they were able. This led directly to the hydrogen explosions, the damage to the just-completed wiring to re-power the reactor coolant pumps, and all that followed.
Why is Japan's supposed new nuclear capacity in the linked to graph so large? As far as I am aware they only had two reactors totalling about 2.75 gigawatts under construction at the start of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and they're certainly not going to build any more. It looks like MIT Technology Review needs to fix up their graph. Get rid of the Czech circle, shrink Japan's, get rid of Vietnam unless they're really optimistic, and check (but not Czech) everything else.
TMI was a level 5 (out of 7) nuclear disaster. But TMI isn't about how much radiation was released. Rather it demonstrates that no matter how many safety precautions one takes, complex systems can always suffer multiple interactive failures. If such can lead to a partial meltdown then it could lead to a total meltdown. Similarly, Fukushima shows that even if everything is done right that no reactor is safe from natural disasters. But it's incorrect to claim people haven't died from Fukushima or even TMI. You can't point to any single death and say "Aha! This person died from the radiation." Instead we know that radiation exposure increases risk of cancer by a certain amount. So deaths are calculated statistically as a result of exposure to that level. Epidemiologists calculate that even TMI's release cost 1 to 2 lives among those living within a 10 mile radius. No big deal unless you're one of them. And, as you say, those people will die even though it "didn't even exceed it's emissions allowance for the month."
I think I'll trust Michio Kakus opinion of the risks more than yours.
Fukushima was a result of both the earthquake and the tsunami. What are the odds of a nuclear reactor suffering both? Pretty slim. Japan certainly didn't expect it. Yet it happened. Which only shows my previous point regarding TMI -- no matter how many safety precautions one takes, complex systems can always suffer multiple interactive failures.
Sorry, there were also three reactors at Higashidori in Japan that were in varying states of construction in 2011, but their exact fate is very much up in the air as they are unsure of whether or not to start up the existing modern reactor at that site on account of faults, as in seismic faults.
"Instead we know that radiation exposure increases risk of cancer by a certain amount."
No, actually, we don't. You're talking about the LNT theory, which was on really, really shaky ground even when it was formulated. It appears to dramatically over-state risk at lower levels, and all of the 'deaths' attributed to most nuclear accidents are based on it.
It is used, despite the data, on the excuse that it is a "conservative" assumption. But not so conservative, if it drives us to switch to objectively more dangerous sources of energy.
You remind me of how tobacco companies used to argue that smoking didn't cause cancer.
Except that we have people living on radioactive thorium beaches, among radon-spewing hot springs, and spending their lives on mountains, on high-altitude aircraft, and in polar latitudes with much higher exposure to cosmic rays... and the epidemiological evidence says that this may actually PROTECT them against cancer, not cause it.